As a result of the case Furman vs. Georgia, The United States Supreme Court struck down the death penalty on this day in 1972. The victory for capital punishment opponents was short-lived however, as states resisted the High Court’s opinion that it was “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The man at the center of the court matter, William Henry Furman, robbed the home of William Micke Jr., a Savannah, Georgia man in 1967, killing him as he walked in. Furman claimed he shot blindly, and was put on death row in 1968.
The justices voted 5-4 in the matter, with Thurgood Marshall serving as one of the justices on the concurring side. In the concurring opinion, Justice William Douglas stated that capital punishment targeted minorities and “outcasts” of society and therefore declared it violated the Eight Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Furman’s death sentence was overturned and he was paroled in 1986.
In the four years after the decision, 37 states enacted their own laws. In 1976, the Supreme Court reversed its decision and reinstated capital punishment under a “model of guided discretion.”
After serving almost 12 years in another robbery case, Furman was released in 2016. Now in his 70s, he said in an interview he would like to mentor prisoners and offenders.
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